I’ve been asked to share how I develop bible study leaders, which is a testimony more to God’s grace than it is to my ability, as this has been a work in process that began with an epic fail. I was the only bible study leader in our church and I was tired. I needed time off but I hadn’t anticipated the need to develop leaders. I put no thought into passing on the baton of leadership and didn’t train, equip or help in anyway. I simply asked a godly participant to fill in while I was away and I trusted the Lord would make everything work out for the best. Taking advantage of the grace of God is not a way to develop a leader! There are many mistakes I have made and will likely continue to make, but from them I have learned some valuable lessons for how to train up leaders of bible studies. I asked a couple of the ladies I have trained to tell me what they found most helpful, and here are some of our insights…
If you don’t love teaching and don’t love the Word, don’t expect others to want to lead. Leaders need to lead out of their passion for study and teaching, or they risk being inauthentic and will likely burn out. Your participants will be motivated by you, so if you want to build up leaders, lead by example.
The things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).
Although this instruction is from Paul to Timothy, as he pastors his church, the principle remains the same; we need to have a mindset of reproduction. I desire to be a part of building God’s kingdom. As it pertains to bible study, I am called to train up leaders so the number of bible studies can multiply. Therefore, I am always on the lookout for someone to train so I can pass on the baton.
Practically speaking, I seek out leaders. At the start of every new bible study I tell my participants that I am looking to train up new leaders. I encourage my participants to pray about apprenticing but realistically 80% of the time I approach potential leaders. Most participants have self-doubt and do not recognize their God-given potential.
Have a plan to move people from participants to leaders. It helps the participants know what is expected of them, and if it isn’t a good fit, it allows them to withdraw from the program without feeling like they’ve failed. Also, having a plan allows other bible study leaders to apprentice as well, which allows the development of more leaders in less time.
Practically speaking, I have high standards for my apprentices because I want them to be equipped and feel as ready as possible to lead when they are done this program. How long they apprentice varies with the individual, however it is common to apprentice for one or two semesters (a semester is the length of one full bible study, average length 8-12 weeks).
The following is an example of my apprenticeship program. My context is women’s bible study (that’s why I refer to the participant as a “she”) but this would work for men as well.
- To be considered for apprenticeship the person needs to attend at least two semesters of bible study so the leader can get to know her and identify her potential teaching/leadership qualities (semesters are the length of one complete bible study).
- The participant needs to display evidence of one of the following spiritual gifts: teaching, shepherding, leadership or exhortation.
- Characteristics of the participant include, but are not limited to: attends every study (but if she will be away she lets me know why), comes on time, homework is complete, willingness to share and pray, encourages others, is passionate about the Word, and is an example to others of what it means to be a Jesus follower.
The type of bible study the participant attends determines the type of study she is qualified to lead. For example, if she attends a Lord series study, she can lead this type of study, if she attends a Precept Upon Precept study (and completes Precepts requirements to teach a PUP study) she can lead this type.
Expectations: An apprentice shadows the leader and does everything a leader does.
- Homework is always complete.
- Arrives 15 minutes early and stay after until most people have left late. Why? Ministry happens before and after the study.
- Attends meetings with new participants to learn how to explain how to do the bible study.
Administration: The leader must explain how she establishes her bible study.
- This may include explaining registration, purchasing of materials, setting forth and posting expectations for the group, organizing babysitting and/or snack.
Progression of responsibility:
- If you need a babysitting coordinator and/or snack coordinator the apprentice fulfills these roles. Explain your expectations for these roles. Tell your apprentice the leader never does these roles; leaders ask others to help. But as an apprentice she must do this so she can know what it entails, and thus asks others to do this when she’s the leader.
- Starting the bible study: By week two the apprentice rallies the participants and starts the bible study in prayer.
- Prayer responsibilities: By week three of the study, the apprentice facilitates prayer time at the end. They do this weekly, or as much as the leader wants this to be done
- Learning to teach: The apprentice submits five questions and answers/week that she thinks the leader should ask. This is to see if the apprentice understands the content and the purpose of the lesson, and it demonstrates where she may need clarification. This also helps in their own application of the text. Questions are submitted two days prior to the study, which helps the apprentice to learn time management.
- By week three the apprentice leads 1/4 of the study (or with PUP have her lead one day of the homework, she can pick the day).
- By week five, leads half the study.
- By week seven, leads an entire study.
- Leads a minimum of two studies/semester.
- Apprentice receives a copy of the leader notes and answers one day prior to the study, these will include the questions she prepared so she knows what part of the study she will need to lead.
Debrief: Each week discuss how she thought the bible study went.
- Debrief includes: Does she like teaching? Does she have any questions? What are her gifts? Strengths? Limitations?
- Discuss how to navigate difficult conversations, tangents, people who get on their soapbox, or how to regain focus. Use specific examples from that weeks bible study.
- When an apprentice has questions about a text, encourage her to wrestle with the text, pray and to seek answers for herself. Be willing to help but don’t encourage reliance on you. Help the apprentice to figure out why they believe what they believe.
- Tell her about any emails/texts you’re getting during the week from participants in the group.
- Half way through the semester the apprentice needs to intentionally shepherd the group. For example, she can follows up with anyone who “no shows” (doesn’t show up to bible study and doesn’t tell the leader she will be away) or check in with anyone who may be wanting prayer support or who is struggling to share at bible study.
- Allow an apprentice to quit at any time if either of you feel this is not a good fit or not the right time to continue.
Follow Up: When an apprentice has finished this program, continue to offer support and check on them to see how they are doing when they are leading their first study. For some, it is better for them to co-lead with a more experienced leader for a semester before they venture out on their own. They need encouragement, prayer and affirmation as they will often feel insecure, somewhat fearful and likely doubt their own abilities. This humility and need to trust the Lord is a great sign that they are ready to lead. J
The greatest program won’t replace God’s blessing on it. Developing leaders starts and ends with prayer. As leaders may we always remember to humble ourselves and pray; for ourselves to remain passionate, to show us who to train and how to do it. May we all have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to us.
Article written by Nicole Funk, with special thanks to Laura Camps and Kveta Rose for their helpful insights.
Laura and Kveta were apprentices of Nicole.
From left to right: Laura Campa, Kveta Rose, Nicole Funk